Pittsburgh Corning is an insulation manufacturer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1937 after the merger of two glass companies and eventually found its way into making insulation using fiberglass and other materials. Today the company focuses on innovating new types of insulation systems and creating insulation solutions for buildings and for industrial applications.
this worldwide company is successful today and was in the past, but for a couple of decades it went through a very rough patch, dealing with thousands of lawsuits over asbestos. Asbestos was used in the products made by a company it acquired called Unibestos. Pittsburgh Corning continued to make Unibestos products and put workers at risk of asbestos exposure as a result. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2000, but did not fully reorganize until 2011.
The founding of Pittsburgh Corning occurred in Pittsburgh in 1937 when two companies merged. The companies were both glassmakers: Corning Glass Works and Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company. In the beginning the new company focused on making glass blocks for use in a variety of installations, including residential and commercial buildings, institution and government buildings, and industrial settings.
By 1947 Pittsburgh Corning began to shift focus and started manufacturing cellular glass insulation, which it called FOAMGLAS. This was a type of insulation that was largely used in construction, and that unlike many other types of insulation at that time did not actually contain asbestos.
Where Pittsburgh began to get into manufacturing products that contained asbestos was with Unibestos. In 1962 the company acquired a product line from UNARCO Industries Inc, called Unibestos. It was a line of asbestos-containing insulation products, including pipe insulation and block insulation. The asbestos that went into the manufacture of Unibestos products was imported from South Africa, and it arrived in a form that made it particularly harmful. It was already broken down into fibers that had the potential to cause exposure.
Between 1962 and 1972, Pittsburgh Corning manufactured Unibestos insulation in a plant in Tyler, Texas, a former UNARCO plant. It also expanded Unibestos production to include a manufacturing plant in Alleghany, Pennsylvania. The company hired consultants to monitor these facilities and learned that workers were being exposed to dangerous asbestos. It did not, however, take adequate steps to change practices or improve safety. The Tyler plant was dismantled in 1972. Today, Pittsburgh Corning is still in operation, but because of lawsuits over asbestos exposure, it was in bankruptcy for nearly 11 years.
Pittsburgh Corning made glass blocks and a unique kind of insulation made from glass in its early years. Until it bought the Unibestos product line and brand, the company never used asbestos. It purchased not just the name and product types, but all the plants and materials that UNARCO had used to make its asbestos products. Pittsburgh Corning just continued doing what UNARCO had done, making a wide range of products with asbestos. These include asbestos fabrics and textiles, pipe insulation, block insulation, gaskets, packing materials, cements, and finishing products, among others.
Asbestos was used in these Unibestos products from 1962 to the dismantling of the Tyler plant ten years later. It was used because it is a mineral that can resist heat, cold, fire, and chemicals, and that is strong, moldable, and durable. These multiple properties made it useful for so many products, but especially for shaped insulation, like pipe or block insulation. Unfortunately the fibers of the mineral are easily ingested and inhaled by those who are near it, and that exposure is very dangerous.
The asbestos that Pittsburgh Corning imported was even more potentially harmful than other types because it was broken down at the mining site, making it more vulnerable to shedding fibers. By the time workers in the U.S. handled it, the fibers were loose and easily became airborne. Workers in the Tyler and Alleghany plants were at particular risk of being exposed to asbestos, and this led to some of them developing asbestos lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.
All of the people who worked in other industries and on other job sites with Pittsburgh Corning’s Unibestos products were also at risk of harmful exposure. Construction workers, pipefitters, industrial workers of all types, maintenance and repair workers, and many others were exposed to asbestos and some of them became sick.
In 1977 Pittsburgh Corning faced one of the earliest class action lawsuits over asbestos exposure and resulting illnesses. It was filed by nearly 500 former employees who worked at the company’s Tyler, Texas plant. This was the plant that manufactured Unibestos asbestos insulation materials from 1962 to 1972. This was also the plant that was found to be lacking in safety measures with respect to asbestos exposure. The plaintiffs in the case ultimately settled out of court for $20 million. Pittsburgh Corning was responsible for $8.1 million while other defendants paid the remainder.
Other lawsuits that Pittsburgh Corning saw were individual suits brought by workers for other companies and widows of workers that passed away from asbestos illnesses. One widow, Helen Simpson, won $2.3 million from Pittsburgh Corning after her husband died from mesothelioma. He had worked with Unibestos pipe insulation throughout his career. Another plaintiff, Robert Dunham, worked for Pittsburgh Corning and handled much of the insulation and the asbestos the company used to make products. He died from lung cancer before his case was finished, but his widow won $19.3 million in a Texas court. The award included both punitive damages and compensatory damages.
Bankruptcy and Asbestos Trust
Because Unibestos had been manufactured with asbestos long before Pittsburgh Corning took over the product line in 1962, the company started facing liability charges early, in the 1970s. As these lawsuits began to pile up, costing the company millions of dollars, it struggled to stay afloat. By 2000 Pittsburgh Corning had to file for bankruptcy protection in an attempt to reorganize. It took more than a decade to successfully reorganize, with a court rejecting the plan in 2011 before finally giving it the go ahead. Part of the plan included the creation of an asbestos trust, which opened in 2013 with over $3 billion.
Pittsburgh Corning took on a huge liability when it took on Unibestos, and that move cost the company a lot of money. It also cost many people their lives, succumbing to mesothelioma and lung cancer. Lawsuits have been filed and these victims have successfully won compensation from the company, but today the avenue for recovering expenses is by making a claim through the asbestos trust. If you believe that you were impacted by Unibestos products, you can work with an experienced lawyer to make a claim.
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